The Director Has No Clothes (feat. Josh Spiegel) | Episode 78

Posted December 1, 2017

If you've seen "The Room," you know it transcends the filmic category of "so bad it's good." There's a sense of tragedy, ambition, and madness all bubbling somewhere in that 2003 cult phenomenon, a phenomenon celebrated and investigated by James Franco's new drama/comedy, "The Disaster Artist."

This week, with the help of film critic and Mousterpiece Cinema host Josh Spiegel, we dig into three films about movie directors producing real trash and dragging along bands of confused conspirators. We watched "The Disaster Artist", "Ed Wood," and "Bowfinger" to examine the psyches of directors, real and fictional, who maybe should have called "cut" on the whole project.

* * *

2:30 - Your hosts recount seeing the "The Room" on the day they met. 

6:50 - Chance and Noah dig into "The Disaster Artist," weighing whether James Franco playing Tommy Wiseau pushes beyond caricature. 

23:30 - Chance calls up Josh Spiegel, host of the Mousterpiece Cinema podcast and contributor to Slash Film and The Hollywood Reporter. They discuss Josh's recent essay comparing "The Disaster Artist" and "Ed Wood" and try to parse out the levels of exploitation that exist for the cast of "The Room" today. 

43:30 - Your hosts pick out their favorite moments of Martin Landau's incredible embodiment of Bela Lugosi in "Ed Wood" and try to decide where this 1994 film ranks in Tim Burton's filmography. 

55:45 - We wrap up the show with 1999's "Bowfinger" and can't quite figure out what's going on behind or within Steve Martin's portrayal of a fictional, filmmaking huckster.  

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-review by Chance Solem-Pfeifer

It's difficult to think of an onscreen retelling outside of hardcore fantasy or sci-fi fare that will mean so much to some people and so precious little to the uninitiated as "The Disaster Artist." James Franco's new part-tribute and part-character study may not absolutely necessitate having seen "The Room" — the cult favorite of which it depicts the making, and that's slowly garnered such memorable backhanded praise as "the best bad movie of all time." But for folks who haven't popped a shoulder tendon chucking spoons at a midnight screening and might think "The Room" is that Brie Larson drama, approximating their reaction to "The Disaster Artist" is a near-impossible thought experiment. You can't unsee "The Room," after all. Once you've witnessed Tommy Wiseau's almost geologically bizarre backside and had your mind infiltrated by his Yugoslav surfer idiolect, it's in there forever.

But let's try. If you've never seen "The Room," I would speculate "The Disaster Artist" will at first strike you as a bit familiar. A young actor, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), has big ambitions but is failing to stand out in his drama classes. He’s as handsome as a matinee idol but an unappealing combination of jittery and wooden. Greg is confronted immediately by the presence of Tommy (James Franco), a mysterious fellow drama student who wears belts like they're bangles and whose major acting totem seems only to be the "STELLAAAAAAA" scene from "Streetcar." After becoming fast, void-filling friends, they move to LA together and face widespread rejection as bizarro roommates. With a dream, a hastily assembled script, and Tommy's mysteriously bottomless bank account, they decide to make their own movie. It's called "The Room." It came out in 2003 to no acclaim and no attention, and it's grown to be a kind of "Rock Horror" for this generation of wise-ass amateur critics who take joy in entertainment's failure. (I'm guilty. Very guilty. Isn't that like a quarter of this podcast?)

"The Disaster Artist," based on Greg Sestero’s book of the same name, takes the audience through every step of a catastrophic production: from Tommy deciding to shoot the movie on both film and digital, to the dozens of takes Wiseau needed just to open a door and deliver a few lines he himself wrote, to Tommy's deteriorating mental state as his crew comes to grips with having to make it through a shoot run by a dictatorial multi-hyphenate without the slightest bit of self-awareness.

I have to think that regardless whether you've seen Wiseau's film that James Franco's portrayal has the power to fascinate. What the director and star of "The Disaster Artist" understands in his bones about a movie that's held up almost exclusively by its unbridled and mockable passion is that he has to equally commit or there's no game. Even though the vast majority of the moviegoing public has no idea who Tommy Wiseau is, this is the kind of effortful biopic swing that makes you forget the subject for a couple hours. Franco masters the voice first and foremost but also brings to life a deep, pained combination of willpower and vulnerability as Wiseau. Where "The Disaster Artist" succeeds most dramatically is where Franco's endeavor is as ridiculous as “The Room” itself. You're watching someone try to put forth a Day-Lewis level of commitment toward playing someone best known for making an unintentionally hilarious movie that prominently features his own ass. Franco is more interested in this text than anyone ought to be, and his movie has the charm of both feeling like it was made by not only an obsessive but someone genuinely interested in how one person's dream turns into several million people's favorite 90-minute punchline. Meanwhile, as Greg Sestero, Dave Franco is far less convincing than his older brother. This is mostly forgivable, even if it stops the movie from rising above its source material. Greg doesn't have to be as interesting as Tommy. He's the Nick Carraway of this tragedy of art and success story of entertainment.

If you're a fan of "The Room," there's almost no way you won't find "The Disaster Artist" to be a kind of psychological dessert, one you maybe didn’t even know you were hungry for. For one, there's the backward, visual pleasure of seeing famous people portray actors who are known for being the opposite of famous. That balding, bespectacled fellow who falls down catching the football is played by Nathan Fielder in a movie that feels like one giant “Nathan For You” episode. What else is there, really?

On a more significant level, "The Disaster Artist" humanizes "The Room" (if not Wiseau) in a few meaningful ways. Here's a movie that is largely appreciated because its viewers think they're smarter and more cinema-literate than the people who made the movie. Yet Franco's movie puts the power back in the artists' hands, particularly in moments spent with the supporting cast, who will take on the sometimes degrading work of being in a movie because it's their dream. Read "The Room" like a diary, this new film seems to ask us, as the genuine pathological product of a man who is utterly baffling but who wants something everyone understands. Wasn’t his fear and spite and vanity real, even if he could only get it across via a funhouse mirror? "The Disaster Artist" asks us to be inquisitive about the art we love, even the butts of our favorite jokes.


All The Movies We've Reviewed

101 Dalmatians
10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Things I Hate About You
127 Hours
22 Jump Street
47 Meters Down
Across The Universe
A Dangerous Method
A Few Good Men
Air Force One
A League of Their Own
Alien 3
Alien: Covenant
Alien: Resurrection
American Animals
American Hustle
American Made
American Psycho
American Splendor
A Simple Plan
A Single Man
A Star Is Born
Atomic Blonde
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
AVP: Alien Vs. Predator
Baby Driver
Baby Mama
Bad Company
Bad Lieutenant
Bad Moms
Bad Santa
Basic Instinct
Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Beasts of No Nation
Beauty And The Beast
Before Sunrise
Behind Enemy Lines
Black Hawk Down
Black Mass
Black Panther
Blade Runner 2049
Bleed For This
Body Heat
Boogie Nights
Bridge of Spies
Bull Durham
Call Me By Your Name
Captain Fantastic
Catch Me If You Can
Chariots Of Fire
Chasing Amy
Child's Play
Christmas Vacation
Cinderella Man
Con Air
Cool Runnings
Crazy Rich Asians
Crimson Tide
Danny Collins
Dante's Peak
Dead Poets Society
Deep Blue Sea
Deep Impact
Deja Vu
Demolition Man
Dirty Dancing
Donnie Brasco
Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot
Dude, Where's My Car?
Easy A
Eddie The Eagle
Ed Wood
Employee of the Month
Erin Brockovich
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Event Horizon
Everybody Wants Some!!
Executive Decision
Ex Machina
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Fatal Attraction
Field Of Dreams
Finding Forrester
For Love Of The Game
Friday Night Lights
Game Night
Gangs of New York
Garden State
Gone Girl
Gone In Sixty Seconds
Grosse Pointe Blank
Hail, Caesar!
Half Baked
Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Head of State
He Got Game
Hocus Pocus
Hollywood Ending
Hot Tub Time Machine
How High
Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Ingrid Goes West
Inherent Vice
Inside Man
Inside Out
In The Land Of Women
In The Line of Fire
Into The Wild
I, Tonya
Jaws: The Revenge
John Wick
Jurassic Park III
Jurassic World
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Kill Bill, Vol. 1
King Cobra
Kingdom Of Heaven
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Lady Bird
La La Land
Leave No Trace
Less Than Zero
Lethal Weapon
Little Miss Sunshine
Love & Mercy
Love, Simon
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mamma Mia
Matchstick Men
Midnight Special
Million Dollar Arm
Mission: Impossible
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Mission: Impossible II
Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Mississippi Grind
Mo' Better Blues
Mom and Dad
Money For Nothing
Moonrise Kingdom
Mr. Mom
Murder at 1600
My Cousin Vinny
National Lampoon's Vacation
Never Say Never
Ocean's Twelve
Old School
One Hour Photo
Open Water
Orange County
Out of Africa
Part of Me
Peter's Friends
Phantom Thread
Picture Perfect
Practical Magic
Public Enemies
Purple Rain
Raising Arizona
Red Dragon
Red Eye
Red Sparrow
Remember The Titans
Reversal Of Fortune
Rock Of Ages
Run All Night
Save The Last Dance
School Ties
Scream 2
Simply Complicated
Sleepaway Camp
Small Soldiers
Snakes On A Plane
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Southside With You
Space Jam
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
State and Main
Step Up
Steve Jobs
Sweet Home Alabama
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Addams Family
The Big Chill
The Big Sick
The Bling Ring
The Brady Bunch Movie
The Campaign
The Cell
The Cloverfield Paradox
The Color of Money
The Disaster Artist
The End of the Tour
The Family Man
The Fast and The Furious
The Fighter
The Flintstones
The Fly
The Fog
The Fugitive
The Fundamentals of Caring
The Hateful Eight
The Hate U Give
The Holiday
The Hours
The Hunt For Red October
The Illusionist
The Indian In The Cupboard
The Insider
The Judge
The Jungle Book
The Last of the Mohicans
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
The Martian
The Matrix
The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Revolutions
The Meg
The Mexican
The Mighty Ducks
The Mission
The Mosquito Coast
The Muppet Christmas Carol
The Natural
The Negotiator
The Nice Guys
The Night Before
The Pagemaster
The Perfect Storm
The Poseidon Adventure
The Prestige
The Queen
The Recruit
The Revenant
The River Wild
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Rules of Attraction
The Shadow
The Shallows
The Sixth Sense
The Social Network
The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three
The Thing
The Truman Show
The Watch
The Witches of Eastwick
This Is Where I Leave You
¬°Three Amigos!
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
To All The Boys I've Loved Before
Tropic Thunder
Van Wilder
Varsity Blues
V For Vendetta
Welcome To Me
While You Were Sleeping
White House Down
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Wild Things
Wild Wild West
Win It All
Without A Paddle
Wyatt Earp
Young Adult
Zack and Miri Make a Porno